Monday, March 15, 2010

Montessori Grace and Courtesy: Learning Through Community Service

NAMC montessori grace and courtesy learning through community service child and grandpa
Often, when we think of the lessons of grace and courtesy in the Montessori environment, we think of teaching and modeling socially acceptable behaviors and customs. Another aspect is the emphasis of learning to give back to humanity and the earth. In essence, it’s learning to serve others.

Community Service (also called Service Learning) projects integrate the academic and behavioral lessons learned with the Montessori concept of Cosmic Education. By teaching civic responsibility, children of all ages learn the value of being a contributing member of society. They see firsthand that they are able to strengthen the bonds within their own communities. Both beneficiaries and students are transformed by the power of the service.

Montessori Grace and Courtesy: Learning Through Community Service

Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
The key word here is intergenerational. Have you ever seen the eyes of an elderly person light up when they hold an infant or play with a toddler? And what preschooler doesn’t like to cuddle up on someone’s lap to hear a book read aloud? Part of the joy for young children is they are performing a service to their community simply by being themselves. Currently, approximately one in eight people in the United States is over the age of 65. By the year 2030, that number is expected to double.

With the shift away from intergenerational families in many parts of the world, bringing the generations together is a learning experience for everyone. Grandparents whose own grandchildren live hundreds or thousands of miles away feel important and loved and young children learn from the great gifts and wisdom our elders have to impart. There are adopt-a-grandparent programs scattered throughout North America, but feel free to contact your local senior centers or assisted living centers to see if they have residents who are interested.

Whether it’s mentoring younger children by reading to them and listening to them read, or helping build a home with Habitat for Humanity, Montessori elementary students are eager to learn about their world and their place in it. Their sense of justice has been awakened and they are keenly in tune with what is fair and unfair. They are open and eager to help others, whether it is a friend who has fallen on the playground or victims of natural disasters.

When incorporating service learning into your Montessori environment, take some time to help your Montessori students understand that not only are they helping others, but they are growing as individuals. Many times, children are so eager to help that they may not fully understand all of the implications. We can make this a true learning experience if we look at it as a big picture project, not just something to satisfy an immediate need.
    NAMC montessori grace and courtesy learning through community service child gardening
  • Mission statement (purpose) – Brainstorm with your Montessori students what the mission or purpose of your project is. Help them write it out. Putting it in writing helps give credence to your efforts.
  • Task – Break down the project into tasks. Allow students to choose tasks for which they feel best suited.
  • What I can learn – Every part of a service learning project is an opportunity to learn and grow. Help your students realize their potential.
  • Journals – Students can keep a journal of their progress. What are they currently doing? How does it make them feel? What iss left to be done?
  • Graphing progress – Incorporate math into your project by graphing your progress. A simple bar graph helps students see their progress.
  • Reflections – At the end of project, allow time for your Montessori students to reflect upon their experience. This can be done first in a journal, then as a community sharing time.
  • Future Ideas – Ask students if they have any plans for projects in the future. Will they build and expand upon the one just completed or will there be something new altogether?
There are many places to find service learning projects. For more ideas, please visit: Montessori Students and Community Service: Volunteering and Compassion

Related NAMC blogs:
      As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
      © North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, March 15, 2010.


      1. I love the multi generational mission here. Creating a plan, and then helping students to carry it out in the context of community service is priceless. Inviting adults of all ages to be apart of the multi age classroom is amazing to watch. Any time we have adults come into the classroom at school, the students are able to engage in learning in a completely new way. Something speaks to them when adults other than their own family/parents take time to show, model, teach, observe, and give input.

        1. Collaboration, cooperation, successes, brighter communities and a happier world are all a result of community service. I think that the Montessori focus on community services and team work at the elementary level is catching on in many schools today. Giving our young students the tools to think on their own and help their world or community in a way they see fit is empowering. I thought it was interesting after talking to a small group of kids the ideas they had to help their community. One child wanted to write a letter to get seat belts on her bus, so that kids are safer. We now have a collaboration table in which kids can get together to come up with ways to help their community and they love it. We also have a nature center near our school that we are going to start visiting...maybe we can volunteer some time there!

      2. I agree..."Every part of a service learning project is an opportunity to learn and grow" It helps our students see potential in more ways than one!

      3. This article talks about how to become Intergenerational. It is a term and action that is alive just down the road at a Hutterite colony. How the traditions, life skills and natural learning take place in the everyday operations. It is the integration of all generations and none are left out, all have a purpose and place and someone that is being taught or mentored. In all the technology and advances that we have and yes they have and use them too, they have not left the senior citizens in the dust, or retirement home. They live out intergenerational it is an action word, at least to an outsider like myself. To me it looks like a very hands on Montessori life.
        This article also makes me dream of opening up a school either in or next to a retirement home and having daily or at the least weekly interactions with the residents. There is such wealth of information and experience that could be shared!
        So what? What am I going to do about this in my life now? With my kids? Well looks like we are going to be making a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house!

      4. While reading this article, it reminded me of an awesome video I watched a month ago that correlated with the idea of Intergeneration.

      5. I love the idea of setting up intergenerational service projects for the Montessori classroom. The time that elementary-aged students spend with seniors can be valuable in so many ways. For the elderly, the visits with children help fulfill their need to care for someone as well as pass down stories and information that they feel is important. They want to feel like they'll be remembered, or that someone else can see how their time on earth was worthwhile. It brings to life what was learned in the Fourth Great Lesson, when stories and information were passed to future generations through the language they created. For the Montessori student, time spent with seniors can help them to respect the elderly, and it might give children insight to how men and women of past generations made life better for young people of today. We can learn so much from the stories that are passed down to us from them. Intergenerational service learning is valuable time spent for everyone involved in it.

      6. I enjoyed the ideas this article shared about serving in the community and making a lasting difference. Each year our class visits a local assisted living home for Christmas and Valentines. Our students bring handmade crafts, games and perform a short program for the seniors there. It it wonderful to see some of the relationships that have been made by the kids and residents. They remember each-other from visit to visit and enjoy laughing and sharing. This service has not only benefited the seniors but also has taught my students about empathy and kindness. Logistically, it is easy to plan and free! A great part of the grace and courtesy curriculum in our program.

      7. Intergenerational relationship are very important to develop and nurture. I encourage my students to help as soon as they can around them like lawnmowing the grass in the neighborood or carrying groceries bags. Helping people, being aware of the others help my students to grow, respecting others and themselves.

      8. I love this idea of serving in the community. In France, where I come from, this is not a widespread idea, but with my school we had managed to get the permission to go 3 times a year, singing with our choir in a retirement home and then to have a small snack with them.
        The pleasure and the emotion of the elderly, the pleasure of students and their pride in having a public was already huge. What we did not anticipate was the links that were created, was all the questions about old age, loss of autonomy, death ensuing a few days after. We had not planned either the impact of the stories of when they were young narrated by the elderly on children... We were able to make connections with many of the disciplines worked in class, especially history. We wanted just to do a good deed and create a link. We had had so much more... It is an experience that I will repeat without hesitation, with surely more meetings since it seems to be easier in the United States to organize this kind of event.

      9. It's such a natural instinct children have, to help, but they are being trained not to by parents who are too busy to let them help prep dinner or clean the house or go out into the community. I am so glad that it is an intregal part of the Montessori classroom so that children can have the chance to follow the desire to help and to feel good about doing so rather than a hinderance.

      10. First I would like to say that I think that the fact Montessori encourages community service is simply beautiful, dialed in, and effective. When students actively participate in helping others, we all know they are also helping themselves. They become kinder and more aware and respectful.
        Secondly, I truly appreciate how NAMC has broken down the lesson of community service into steps for the students to follow - so that they stay on target, are organized, and can hopefully double their retention on why and how they did their service. Its like writing a mini business plan. Brilliant!

      11. I agree with all the other comments that getting students involved in activities including older people is a really great idea. When I was at school I chose to be in an after school program where we used to visit elderly care facilities and nursing homes and it was a really great thing for us to do. I do think however that it would be even more beneficial, meaningful and useful to actually engage with older family members of the students in the school. The interactions would be so much more meaningful to the older people if they are able to be involved in the lives of their younger family members.

      12. I love the idea of incorporating service learning into the classroom. Students that can connect with our history develop a greater respect for our elders within our community and our world. It allows students to explore spiritual and scientific questions deeply and in a concrete manner.

      13. I absolutely love the idea of children learning through Community Service and participating in inter-generational activities, there is so much for children to learn from others! I really enjoy the idea of a journal, incorporating math/bar graph, and reflecting on the experience as a group as well as individually. It's true that children are naturally eager to help, its wonderful to help them harness that into something productive and worthwhile.

      14. I love the ideas brought forth in this article. I thoroughly believe that one of the best ways to develop personally and build self-confidence and self worth is by giving back.

        Students would directly develop a deep and real understanding that our actions affect those around us and that we are all interconnected. In helping with the planning, organizing, and carrying out a Community Service project, students would immediately see and recognize the benefits it has on them and others.

        I genuinely appreciate that NAMC has broken the steps down for planning and organizing a community service project. I think this will be extremely helpful for me, as a teacher, in supporting my students and helping guide them once they start to plan their own community service project. I also think it would provide them the necessary steps to successfully complete this project.

        Is there anyone who has already completed a community service project project that can provide some feedback. What have you found to be successful and have there been any community service projects that were unsuccessful due to unforeseen challenges? I would love to have my students plan and partake in a community service project and I would appreciate any input.

      15. This is one of the main reasons why the Montessori approach should be embraced by all that are in education. The level of awareness to the community and the responsibility that we all have being taught at the tender ages of three and up raises critical thinkers who are going to make decisions for the greater good. While each student is being taught self confidence and independence, this aspect of peace through community awareness brings it back around that we are not an island. We are connected one to the other and our personal successes are hinged upon how we all interact with each other. Community focused rather than individually self pleasing.

      16. I think that it is of the upmost importance to promote community service among our students; I believe that personal growth comes to those who give back to their community even by doing small things; this is a great way for children to practice responsibility and it gives them a first hand experience of the impact their work as members of society has.

      17. While reading this blog post I couldn’t help but think back on my experience in elementary school. I remember we used to have weekly recycling jobs. That is at the end of every day a (different) group of students taken from each upper elementary class would go around the school and collect all the recycling (each individual student would only participate once a week). We would then bring it into a giant room where we would sort it out into sections so it is ready to be recycled. I remember how eager I was to participate in this activity (when I was still a lower elementary student). I looked up to those students whoever they walked into the class to take the recycling bin and when I finally had a chance to participate I felt very important, like a grown up. Now when I think of it, going around and collecting recycling materials is not all that thrilling to me, it was back then. From this experience I am now sure that children have a natural disposition to the idea of helping the community, even if that means sorting through sticky juice boxes and milk cartons. For this reason I think community service is a great way to allow children the opportunity to feel important and responsible for their community.

      18. I have taken students in the past to an elderly residential facility on a field trip. Kids read to the senior citizens, sang songs to them, and visited with them. It brought joy to both the residents and the students. My Montessori first, second, and third grade class, which is in a public school setting, will be visiting a senior citizen center in January. Before we go on the trip, students will be reading the poem about The Old Man and the Boy by Shel Silverstein, and talking about how they are the wise ones in our community who have been on earth longer than us. They have stories to share with us.

      19. It is very important to promote community service among our students. In this way, they value their contributions as a member of the community. And I strongly believe and agree that personal growth comes to those who give back to their community even by doing small things but in a great way they can offer. Students has their own ideas on how they want to serve their community and I think it also develops their self-esteem in taking their choices on how they want to be of help. On the other hand, students practice the whole meaning of responsibility and it gives them a chance and a self of belongingness to contribute a part of what society has to offer. It is with grace and courtesy that these students participate and feel they are needed, a self-realization that they are important and a sense of belongingness is being flourished.

      20. Every year around Christmastime our upper elementary students sew fleece lap blankets for a certain nursing home. They also make decorated goodie bags filled with chocolates and homemade ornaments. They then take a field trip to the nursing home to deliver the gifts and sing them Christmas carols. The children love this activity and look forward to it every year! They feel so important and connected to this elderly community. It's amazing to see some of the homemade gifts from previous students put up each year by the residents there. Seeing the smiles of the sweet residents is priceless!

      21. I am a teacher in a Montessori school and my older kids who are able to read are strongly encouraged to read to the younger ones. As the day goes by, my younger ones do not come to me for reading their books to them, instead they approach their older friends to read to them. When the teacher models the behavior he/she wants to see, that is when the classroom is in peace.

      22. Reading this blog made me realize just how well of a job the teachers at my children's school do of including this kind of service learning in the classroom. Older students often read to younger ones and upper elementary students are often responsible for helping toddlers get their things ready to go home at the end of the day. I really like the idea of sharing the joy of young children with senior citizens. There is an assisted living facility across the street from our school and I would love to implement a program that involves our students reading with the residents over there.

      23. The last time I did a service project with primary students I followed this same suggestion of allowing them to choose a mission or focus. In previous years i chose a retirement home for us to 'adopt'. This included a holiday program, hanging space and fans for all of our art projects and occasional reading visitors.
        The student chosen project was not at all similar. Interestingly, the love of puppies and kittens inspired every last one of them so we ended up baking dog biscuits (math) and holding a dog food and donation drive for the local animal shelter. We visited twice and broke into teams of cat petters, dog walkers, and dog brushers. Obviously, I had no one with dander allergies that year!
        Responses afterwards were positive for both experiences, but there more empowered statements after the shelter project. Statements like 'we decided to help animals' and 'we could help that shelter raise more money if we have a jar in our classroom'. I had not expected much difference in their experience except for the variety it provided. I realized it was really important for them to discuss ideas, agree together and see their impact.

      24. I am eager to talk with our elementary students about the internal development that occurs when we serve and to hear what they are passionate about doing for others and the world. Service is so much more meaningful and enjoyable when it is an overflow of love and is a choice. I very much appreciate the suggested rubric for elementary children. It seems that it would highlight the learning opportunities for the students and help them to organize their experience and succeed independently.

        Last year, my mother-in-law opened a group home for elderly people who can no longer live without supervision. Part of her preparatory training from the state included Montessori ideas regarding ways to encourage independence for residents. They asserted there would be many health and wellness benefits in not doing for the elderly what they were able to do for themselves. My mother-in-law said that it really helped to transform her vision for the home into a shared community for the women and men there, more than a place that belonged to her. The ladies frequently wanted social experiences that many children would enjoy (i.e. a Kentucky Derby hat making party). Additionally, my children visited the home with their grandma without any activities planned, and it was wonderful to see what a close bond some of the residents formed with my 5-year-old daughter almost immediately.

      25. I love the idea of intergenerational service project. Serving our community has many wonderful lessons that can be taught to the children. I believe community service is really important to teach our students.

      26. I love the intergenerational service project idea. I think that it's just as important at an elementary age to realize that you can have a positive impact on both older and younger students just by being yourself. Allowing elementary students to have the opportunity to be the mentor as well as the mentee allows them to better embrace their cosmic role.


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